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Rogue Wave Rocks at 'Heaven's Gate'

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Rogue Wave Rocks at 'Heaven's Gate'

Rogue Wave Rocks at 'Heaven's Gate'

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RACHEL MARTIN, host:

This is the band Rogue Wave, and the last year or so has been pretty up and down for the indie rockers. Guitarist Gram LeBron's father passed away. Drummer Pat Spurgeon spent much of the time between gigs on dialysis before a kidney transplant finally came through and saved his life. Former bassist Evan Farrell was killed in a fire, an accidental fire.

Front man Zach Rogue's grandfather passed away, and weeks later, his first child was born. Meanwhile, Rogue Wave earned critical acclaim for their latest album, "Asleep at Heaven's Gate." This summer they'll open for Jack Johnson and Death Cab for Cutie, and tonight they'll be on "Letterman."

Zach Rogue and Pat Spurgeon came by our studio yesterday to talk about the yin and yang of the Rogue Wave's lives and music, and to play us some songs. But first, I asked Spurgeon about his fondness for various nontraditional instruments. While doing a little research we say this video on - I mean, it's chronicling the making of "Asleep at Heaven's Gate," and it looks like at one point you're playing this weird rocket thing.

Mr. PAT SPURGEON (Drummer, Rogue Wave): Ah, the sword.

MARTIN: It looked like a toy, what is that?

Mr. SPURGEON: Oh, the sword. It's a "ThunderCat" sword. It's just - I pick up - when I go to thrift stores...

Mr. ZACH ROGUE (Vocalist, Guitarist, Rogue Wave): He's a collector.

Mr. SPURGEON: My girlfriend goes and she'll - she goes and buys all this - the great clothes and shoes, and I go right to the electronics or the kids - the toys, and I find all this stuff, and I've got a good collection of - there's actually a weird electronic trumpet that we put inside the piano in the song "Harmonium" that makes this weird kind of random noise.

And the sword - I don't - yeah, it's weird, I just like to - I like to find anything I can possibly find that makes noise, because then if you use it - if you use it correctly or incorrectly, actually if you use it any way, usually it can yield something.

MARTIN: What's the craziest thing you've ever used?

Mr. ROGUE: Actually, I think...

Mr. SPURGEON: Gee, can you field that one?

Mr. ROGUE: Well, I can say what I think the most innovative thing I've seen you do in the studio before. This wasn't with a toy, but we were playing this song that it actually ended up being a B side on the record, but I wanted it to sound like I was playing a sitar, but I don't A, know how to play the sitar, and B, I don't have one. So...

MARTIN: Two obstacles.

Mr. ROGUE: Yeah, so you think you won't be able to do it, but oh, no! I have Pat Spurgeon in the studio. So we - I was playing the electric guitar and it was fed through this really big speaker that I have in the basement, this really big speaker. It's just loud. And Pat's like, I think I've got an idea. So I'm like, OK, and I was just kind of playing some guitar lines and he's just kind of messing around.

And then I look up and he's - he took a banjo and he turned it around so the speakers are - so the strings of the banjo were facing the speaker, and he took this leather belt and strapped the banjo to the speaker. And so when I would strum the guitar, it would make the strings on the banjo rattle so much that it would go with my guitar lines and it would sound like the kind of - that clanging of a sitar string.

MARTIN: Yeah. That reverberation.

Mr. ROGUE: That reverberation, yeah, it was just reverberating so much that it sounded like I was playing a sitar. It was, like, incredible.

MARTIN: You jerry-rigged a sitar. That's pretty cool.

Mr. ROGUE: Yeah.

Mr. SPURGEON: I don't know where that came from, but yeah, the banjo was sitting there.

MARTIN: Well, let's get a sense of the new album. Play us a song. What do you want to play us?

Mr. SPURGEON: I think we're going to play - wanted to do, like play...

Mr. ROGUE: We're going to keep it Midwest.

MARTIN: All right.

Mr. ROGUE: We're going to play "Lake Michigan."

MARTIN: Oh, please, I like that one.

Mr. SPURGEON: OK, are you ready?

Mr. ROGUE: Yeah.

(Soundbite of song "Lake Michigan")

Mr. ROGUE: (Singing) Heaven is a switchboard that you want to fight. She would even miss you if you taught her sight. Power politician leaning to the right. Baby's got a trust fund that she'll want to go off like that.

Get off of my stack. Leave a little window. Get off of my stack

Now we wear same-colored yellow uniforms Sky is burning, but at least we know we're warm. Go and run yourself a million miles hoping That the colors run out and you, go off like that.

Get off of my stack. Leave a little window. Get off of my stack.

You can never see yourself ringing all around it. You can never see yourself ringing all around it. You can never see yourself ringing all around it.

You can never see yourself ringing all around it. You can never see yourself ringing all around it.

But, no one, no one is on Lake Michigan. You labored, you labored on Lake Michigan.

Not another payoff, get off of my stack. Leave a little window. Get off of my stack. You know it won't do. Get off of my stack.

Stack. Right. Yeah. Ooh. Ooh. Dum da dah.

You can never see yourself ringing all around it. You can never see yourself ringing all around it.

MARTIN: That was lovely.

Mr. SPURGEON: Thank you.

MARTIN: That was "Lake Michigan," off of the album "Asleep at Heaven's Gate." I'm talking with Zach Rogue and Pat Spurgeon, two members of the band Rogue Wave. I do want to talk a little bit about what seems, from the outside, like a very emotional year that your band had in 2007. Lots of stuff going on. Pat, if I can ask you, you had a health scare.

Mr. SPURGEON: I did have a health scare and well, actually, if I may go back, leading up to that, our guitar player, he lost his father to cancer and he - so that kind of kicked off some very rough times for us, and that was right when we were in the midst of the tour so he had to be on the road while he was dealing with that.

And then I had already been living on one kidney transplant, and I was transplanted back in the early '90s, and it was coming to a halt, so the doctors caught it early enough and they told me, I think we were in Denver, something like that - when you get back from this tour we need to get you started on dialysis, and I did the kind where you can travel because I knew that I could do that.

And so we - I got myself hooked up with that, got going with the dialysis, and then we'd hit the road and I just had all this dialysis equipment in the back of the van. It would take up half the van, and then we'd have the rest of the gear in the trailer, and would just do that.

MARTIN: How did that change how you looked at making music and touring? I mean, did you have a new kind of sense of presence and urgency in wanting to get out and do what you loved to do?

Mr. SPURGEON: It was more of urgency just to like get healthy and - because really when it comes down to it, anyone in the world, they only have their health. You really do. And especially when you're on the road, it's hard to stay healthy. You're eating food that's not exactly the best and especially when on dialysis, having your dietary restrictions, it was impossible.

Mr. ROGUE: Yeah. Find no-sodium food on the road.

Mr. SPURGEON: Yeah.

MARTIN: Not so easy.

Mr. ROGUE: It's impossible.

Mr. SPURGEON: But I got into a regiment of doing what I had to do. I would do it in the van, or do it in a hotel, or at the club or whatever, and it was working out fine, but then I got a call last minute one night when we were back from the tour and somebody had - some kid had passed away in Redding, California, and he was close to home and they said he was a zero mismatch for me, which meant he was next to a brother, a relative. He's the absolute best that you can get.

MARTIN: Perfect match.

Mr. SPURGEON: So they bumped me to the top of the list. So all of a sudden it was like I'm coming home from doing karaoke and go straight to the hospital. I called everybody, and called Zach, and he met up with my girlfriend and I - and, you know, moment's notice I had a transplant, and it's been going strong ever since.

Mr. ROGUE: I kind of see it as like a two-part thing, you know. It seems like - and especially as it translates to how all that translates to music, you know, it seems like there's a part one and a part two. The part one is kind of ever since I had known Pat this kind of cloud of fear, you know, just feeling like how are we going to get this guy a kidney because he can't just be on dialysis forever, and he was on this really long waiting list, you know?

We were always fearful that, how is this guy going to make it? I mean, and then so this amazing gift happens, he just happens to get this - I mean, someone else has lost someone, this boy died, but Pat gets this kidney and he gets it and he recoups and we start working on this record, and I feel like there's this kind of duality to the record of the gloom and the foreboding that we had had ever since we knew each other. And then this excitement is like I am alive and I feel like there's that sense...

MARTIN: Rebirth.

Mr. ROGUE: Both of those things are on the record, maybe not in the words exactly, but in a lot of the things that Pat was doing musically. A lot of the crazy, the way he was just embracing everything. I mean, I feel like even though there's a sense of darkness to the music to a degree, I feel like there's a real exuberance in the music.

MARTIN: We should also mention that you had a baby, right?

Mr. ROGUE: Yes. She's actually sitting outside.

Mr. SPURGEON: Oh, yeah, gee.

MARTIN: That's a big. That's a powerful life force in a very real way.

Mr. ROGUE: And she was born actually just a couple weeks before Pat got his kidney, so all these things were kind of coming together and my grandfather, actually he passed away a couple weeks before my daughter was born, and seeing kind of the cycle of life so many different kinds of ins and outs at the beginning, the very beginning and the very end, and all these kind of near misses and all these things.

I feel like I'm the most excited, not just because it's the current record or something. This one I feel so excited about just because I think we did something that really explains both of those kind of pendular swings of our lives, you know, and through sound, you know, or at least we tried to.

MARTIN: Well, let's have you make a little more sound for us.

Mr. ROGUE: OK.

MARTIN: What are you going to play for us now?

Mr. ROGUE: We're going to play a song it's called "Chicago X 12."

Mr. SPURGEON: Midwest theme.

MARTIN: Yeah. Again with the Midwest.

Mr. ROGUE: OK.

Mr. SPURGEON: I'm in C. You start this one?

(Soundbite of song "Chicago X 12")

Mr. ROGUE: Yeah.

Mr. ROGUE: (Singing) We had fun in the sun, But now you've thrown it away. Tossing out the baby with the bathtub. These dogs have strayed.

You'll never know how hard I tried To keep my worries in line, But they're all bastards.

Gone are the good old days Of painting young Courtney Pine Or listen to the taunts and The shouts of the celebration wine.

I never could make it work out right. Her milk glows in the black light, But it don't matter because No one comes out to see us. No one comes out to see us. No one comes out to see us.

Well, my pain's in a rut. I've been lonely enough. I've bled Los Angeles blood. I've had enough of this stuff.

You can't go on with what you're doing Because they already know. You run your life into ruin There's so much to show.

You'll never know how hard I tried. Her milk glows in the black light, But it don't matter...

MARTIN: That's Rogue Wave, and we captured their in-studio performance on video. Look for it on our blog at npr.org/bryantpark. We're also going to link to Rogue Wave's website. They're touring all over the country this summer, so you can check them out yourself in a town near you.

Mr. ROGUE: (Singing) No one comes out to see us. Well, my pain's in a rut.

ALISON STEWART, host:

And that's it for this hour of the Bryant Park Project. We're online all the time at npr.org/bryantpark. I'm Alison Stewart.

MARTIN: And I'm Rachel Martin. This is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.

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